Skip to content

Call shadowing: The essential support and sales training tool

Call shadowing

As any customer can tell you, the best customer support agents and sales reps don’t just memorize a company’s product features or policies. The best customer-facing reps conduct comprehensive customer research, show empathy, and navigate challenging situations — skills that aren’t necessarily easy to teach through a customer service training manual.

When a new rep does call shadowing as part of their training, they can develop more nuanced relational skills in real time. For instance, after listening to an account manager take a call with a prospect, a trainee might ask them:

  • “Why did you choose to highlight X feature over Y?”
  • “How did you know to ask them about their client onboarding process?”
  • “Where will you find the resources that they asked for?”

Getting the chance to witness these conversations live — and understand why experienced team members have made certain decisions — can help new reps crystallize their learning. Below, we’ll explain what call shadowing is, how it benefits customer support and sales teams, and walk you through how to set up an effective and efficient call shadowing process for your team.

What is call shadowing?

Call shadowing is a training technique in which new hires join experienced reps while they conduct calls with customers or prospects. With call shadowing, new hires listen in on a call without being heard by other call participants. 

Call shadowing is a low-cost, high-impact way for new hires to learn how different scenarios play out in the real world and learn how coworkers with years of institutional knowledge navigate different challenges.

In the past, call shadowing was associated with high-volume call centers and contact centers. However, over the years, it’s become a popular training technique for customer success (CS), service, and sales teams across all types of industries. Even non-customer-facing teams have started using it — for instance, engineers at Sourcegraph each spend a week every year shadowing customer calls in order to better understand customer needs.

Call shadowing vs call recording for training purposes

Many companies today already engage in call recording for a number of reasons:

  • Companies might record calls to share customer insights across their organization. 
  • Customer service and sales managers might use call recordings in order to provide their direct reports with one-on-one coaching, using the recording to point out wins and opportunities for improvement.

While call recordings can be handy for the purposes above, it’s generally less effective to train new hires by having them simply listen to recorded calls, as it’s far less interactive and doesn’t provide them the opportunity to ask questions.

Call shadowing allows trainees to learn more actively by having them sit in on live calls, either remotely or in person. After the call takes place, the new hire can ask questions, and the mentor can explain why they chose certain approaches and why they responded in certain ways. By debriefing the call, the mentor helps the trainee thrive in similar situations they might encounter.

How to set up a call shadowing process

At first glance, setting up a call shadowing process might seem easy enough: just pair up a new rep with an experienced rep for a few days and you should be set, right?


When setting up a call shadowing process, you’ll want to be strategic about the type of calls a new rep joins, which mentors they’re paired with, what they’re expected to learn on each call, and more. Fortunately, you can systematize this approach using the steps below.

1. Set clear goals for your call shadowing process

First, get a clear understanding of what you want trainees to get out of call shadowing. Do you want to decrease training costs? Improve your employee retention rate? Get new hires up to speed faster?

Setting clear goals ahead of time can help you shape your call shadowing process and measure its effectiveness down the line. A few questions you can use to have clearer goals include:

  • What exactly do customer service or sales reps need to learn about conducting calls?
  • What will shadowing teach new reps that they can’t find in existing help resources? 
  • How will you know when a new hire is ready to start taking calls themselves? Do new teammates need to pass a test or have more experienced reps listen in live on their initial calls? 
  • How will you know if your call shadowing process has been successful?

2. Decide which types of calls customer service or sales reps should join

Call shadowing should introduce your new hires to a range of calls they can expect to encounter on the job. CS and sales reps take a wide variety of calls, each with their own objectives. Trainees need to learn what makes these calls different and how to navigate their unique nuances. 

For salespeople, their list of common calls include intro calls, demos, proposal calls, negotiations, and closing calls. Depending on the type of call, new hires should pay attention to specific details, such as:

  • How a prospect is evaluated for fit according to your company’s ideal customer profile
  • How your product’s value is positioned to the prospect, and which product features are prioritized
  • How the mentor manages time during the call
  • How the mentor answers the prospect’s questions and handles objections
  • How the mentor takes notes during and after the call

Before each sales call, mentors should point out details to trainees that they should pay attention to. 

If your team offers support to existing customers, new hires should focus on:

  • How mentors educate the customer about the product
  • Where mentors find the information and resources they need to support the customer
  • How mentors handle conflicts with difficult customers
  • How mentors calm customers down or reassure them
  • How mentors follow up with callers if they can’t answer their questions right away

With any sales or support calls, new hires should write down their takeaways as they shadow mentors’ calls, then ask mentors any questions they have once the call has concluded.

3. Choose mentor-trainee pairings for call shadowing

Generally, it’s ideal to have trainees learn from more than one mentor during the onboarding process. That way, new reps can learn based on different mentors’ strengths and specialties. 

It can be helpful for new hires to be exposed to a range of different approaches and styles as they gain shadowing experience. 

For instance, one mentor may be more skilled with positioning, while another might be great at drawing out customer insights for the wider team. 

However, creating shadowing opportunities with multiple mentors isn’t always possible — you may have a small existing team yet be bringing on a large number of new reps. In this case, bringing together all the new reps with a mentor for a Q&A session can help.

4. Establish a pre-call, in-call, and post-call process for sales meetings

Unlike support calls , sales calls are often scheduled in advance because they generally require more prep and follow-up. Establish a pre-call, in-call, and post-call shadowing process to make sure trainees learn throughout each of these stages.

Pre-call process

Have the trainee shadow the mentor’s pre-call preparation process. They should keep an eye on:

  • How the mentor gathers information ahead of the call: do they read up on the prospect in Salesforce (or another CRM)? Do they review past communication with the prospect?
  • How the mentor prepares for the call: do they customize a slide deck? What sales enablement resources do they gather ahead of time?

Mentors should provide trainees with as much context as possible prior to the meeting and point out what trainees should look out for.

In-call process

During the call, trainees should take notes that align with the purpose of the call (whether it’s an intro, onboarding, or closing call) and jot down any questions they have.

You can even provide trainees with a call shadowing worksheet to fill during call shadowing sessions. The guide can include any details that seem relevant, such as the:

  • Client’s name
  • Mentor’s name 
  • Call type (intro, demo, proposal, etc.)
  • What product features were covered
  • What resources the mentor used during the call (customer service scripts, an internal knowledge base, etc.)
  • What went well 
  • What the trainee might have done differently
  • Any information the trainee heard that was new or unclear to them

Looking for a worksheet you can use? Check out this call shadowing worksheet.

Post-call process

Make sure mentors leave time at the end of a call to review how the conversation went with the trainee. They should chat through what the trainee learned, any questions they had, and why the mentor chose to approach the phone call in the way they did.

The trainee can also shadow any follow-up from the call so that they can see the exact steps a mentor takes to get customers the information they need:

  • The mentor should show the trainee where to find answers to any questions the prospect asked
  • The trainee should review any follow-up emails, Slack messages, or GitHub issues

By including trainees in the post-call process, mentors ensure they learn how to properly close the loop with prospects and clients.

5. Have trainees go through call nesting

Once trainees have shadowed a wide variety of calls, they can move on to call nesting. With call nesting, trainees begin to lead their own calls with customers and prospects — but they do so with a supportive mentor by their side (physically or virtually), listening in to the call and providing support as needed.

Once a new rep can get through a range of calls successfully, they can move out of nesting and start taking calls on their own.

6. Choose a business phone system with call shadowing capabilities

Once you’ve set up an organizational process for call shadowing, you’ll want to figure out how to do it using your business phone system.

If your team works together in person, mentors and trainees have the option of taking calls together from a meeting room or using headphone splitters so new reps can listen in from a coworker’s desk. For those working in a hybrid or remote environment, however, you’ll want to ensure that your business phone system offers team members the ability to shadow calls.

For instance, with OpenPhone, teammates can use the platform’s group calling feature to have trainees remotely listen in on customer or prospect calls while muted.

Group calling on OpenPhone
OpenPhone’s group calling feature in action

Calls can also be recorded during call shadowing or nesting so trainees and mentors can later revisit moments that stood out to them or that they had further questions about. Plus, with OpenPhone’s Business plan, your team can use call transcripts to quickly go back to specific parts of conversations. Thanks to OpenPhone’s integrations with customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Zapier, recorded conversations can also automatically be synced to a CRM, allowing your team to easily reference recordings later and coach colleagues as needed.

The benefits of call shadowing

Call shadowing may be quickly getting adoption from businesses of all sizes, but some businesses might question the need to add call shadowing as a training method for new hires in addition to reviewing past call recordings.

If you still need to get buy-in from your organization to implement call shadowing, share three pedagogical benefits of call shadowing in a business’s onboarding process: more context and nuance, the opportunity for active learning, and the chance to learn through feedback.

Gain higher context and nuance

While onboarding guides are great training tools that can prepare new hires for a wide variety of situations, they can’t quite replicate a live customer call. When trainees shadow mentors throughout the entire process of preparing for a call, leading it, and following up with customers afterward, trainees get a far deeper and more nuanced understanding of the situations they’ll encounter on the job.

Engage in active learning

Sure, trainees could train for their roles by simply listening to recordings of past calls with customers. However, by having trainees shadow mentors’ day-to-day calls, trainees engage in active learning. They’re encouraged to reflect, discuss, and ask questions throughout the process, which helps them take in more than they would if they just passively listened to a recording.

Learn through feedback

When trainees take part in call nesting, they receive in-the-moment feedback from mentors. Feedback is most effective when it’s delivered in a timely fashion and in context since it lets trainees absorb it while the details of the situation are still fresh in their minds. If mentors wait until the end of the week to review a trainee’s calls and provide feedback, the immediacy is often lost, making the feedback itself less impactful.

Shadow calls easily with OpenPhone

Adding a call shadowing process to your training and onboarding can help new team members get up to speed faster and more effectively.

With OpenPhone, you can easily implement a call shadowing process using our group calling and call recording features. To discover these and other team-friendly features, get started with a free trial today.

4.9/5 - (12 votes)